Geeked on Golf


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TIPPING THE SCALES

A Geek Dad’s Diary entry reflecting on the complexity of golf culture and how we welcome beginners

Golf is a game of invitation and camaraderie. Very few are those players who come to it without being brought by friends, family, colleagues or a mentor. Fewer still are those who stick around long enough for the love of the game to take hold without patient and persistent support from their fellow players. Getting the ball in the hole is difficult. Navigating the rules and norms of etiquette, perhaps even more so. Without the welcoming invitation followed by the supportive camaraderie that are at the heart of what’s best in golf, these challenges prove too daunting for most.

This past week’s golf adventures, which included my son Henry, illuminated a balancing act that is deeply ingrained in the game. On the one hand, there are many aspects of golf—traditions, exclusivity, cost, difficulty—that are unwelcoming. On the other, most golfers are enthusiastic, courteous and generous, especially to those who exhibit a genuine interest in meeting people, having new experiences and enjoying the game. At the end of the day, it’s the players who tip the scales. Will they help beginners along, or will they intolerantly turn them away, like a teacher who kicks a child out of kindergarten for not knowing how to do long division?

Back to My Beginning

Earlier in the week, I had occasion to be up near my home town. Time allowed for me to stop in Fort Sheridan to take a walk. When it was an operational Army base, the Fort had a golf course that was open to active and retired servicemen and women, and their families. That is where I learned to play the game. My dad and grandfather, who both served, started taking me out when I was six with sawed off clubs. They would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker and let me play in. Fun was the priority, but I was not allowed to run wild. They patiently taught me when it was my turn, to be quiet when someone else was playing, to replace divots and rake bunkers, and the other standards of etiquette. I had to earn my way backward to play from the tee. The course at Fort Sheridan is no longer there, along with many other community golf courses in America, but the memories and foundation I gained while walking its fairways are ever present.

My week also included the privilege of getting out for an afternoon loop with buddies at the Old Elm Club, where I caddied from intermediate school through college. Old Elm is a small men’s club that’s as exclusive as they come. It always surprises my friends now to learn that back in my day, the caddies were almost all teenagers who were allowed to play after work at 5:30pm Tuesday – Sunday, and after noon on Mondays. Suffice it to say, my fellow golf bums and I took advantage of the perk. Our days were spent learning all manner of lessons from adults on the course, and fellow caddies in the yard. Evenings were for chasing the sun, where one rule reigned supreme—play fast. We didn’t care if you were a novice or an expert, a hack or a stick. Just get on with it. As I look back now, I can see the scales balanced, with exclusivity on one side, and the generosity of the members on the other. It’s complicated, but one thing is simple. My days as an Old Elm caddie were highly beneficial in my life, and I wish that youth caddie programs were thriving rather than dying.

On the Road

The memories and musings of the week were packed up and we headed to Indianapolis for the weekend. On Friday, Henry and I met my buddy Jamison at his favorite local track, Pleasant Run. The course was laid out on rolling land with a creek running through it and plenty of quirk baked in. It’s not easy to play or walk, but Henry made it and we had a blast. Pleasant Run is community golf at its best—fun, affordable, interesting—and the combination of friendly staff and a terrific host made us feel right at home.

Contrast that pleasantness with our experience at The Fort. After receiving a less than warm welcome in the pro shop and being reminded that Henry wasn’t permitted to drive the cart with his grandmother, it came to our attention that someone on the staff made a stink about a 9-year old being allowed out to play. Henry plays well, fast and with solid etiquette. He has played Olympia Fields, Lawsonia, Kingsley, and Arcadia Bluffs, and has done just fine. Of course, this person at The Fort didn’t know about Henry or his game, but they didn’t bother to ask me either. They made a snap judgment based on his age and in the process made him feel unwelcome. Ironically, we were greeted on the 3rd tee by a nice lady selling raffle tickets to raise money for youth golf in Indianapolis. Apparently the message is that The Fort supports youth golf as long as it doesn’t happen there. The encounter clearly bummed Henry out, and after 2.5 hours of watching adults make a mess of the front nine at an excruciatingly slow pace, he asked to quit.

This could have just been a bad moment for a few people at The Fort, or it could have been a symptom of a wrong-headed, unwelcoming culture. I don’t know, and frankly, because my child was involved, I don’t care. I took to Twitter and blew off some steam with a rant. What happened next is one of many reasons why I love golfers. Not only did Henry receive messages of support and encouragement, but he also got invites to play in Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Lexington. I have passed the messages along to him as they come in, and he is thrilled. His love of the game goes on while golf culture puts on its balancing act. Fortunately, the good folks consistently show up to tip the scales.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that private clubs swing their doors wide open, or that we replace the game’s rules and standards with a behavioral free-for-all. There is room on the golf landscape for all manner of courses and clubs—one size does not need to fit all. And the fact that we voluntarily adhere to rules for competitive play and etiquette at all times is part of what makes the game special. This diary entry is not meant to come to sweeping conclusions, but rather to be a reminder that, to one degree or another, we were all brought into golf. In turn, we each have an obligation to pay that kindness forward by welcoming others and helping them find their way so that they too have the chance to fall in love. The experiences of the week, linking my younger self to my son, reminded me that in the complicated culture of the game, I need to put forth the effort to tip the scales.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Musings on Greatness

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  

Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  The standard matters because it gives context.  There are several standard that my fellow geeks and I like to use:

  • The Memorability Standard – Can you remember every hole on the course the next day?  
  • The 18th Green to 1st Tee Standard – When you walk off the final green, do you want to go right back out?
  • The One Course for the Rest of Your Life Standard – Could you be happy playing just that one course every day for the rest of your life?
  • The 10 Rounds Standard – When comparing courses, how would you split ten rounds among them?

These are all good standards, and provide interesting perspectives on the greatness of courses.  A new standard materialized for me in 2017, and I am now on the hunt for courses that qualify.  

The inspiration for this standard – which I call 108 in 48 – is Prairie Dunes.  I had the good fortune of spending another weekend in Hutchinson this year (thank you Charlie).  Both of my visits to PD have been golf binges.  Around and around we go.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  

My experiences at Prairie Dunes have set the standard in my mind.  The question is, which courses would I want to go around 6 times in 2 days?  What that means to me is, which courses are interesting, challenging and fun enough to stand up to that kind of immersion experience?  Can’t be too hard or I get worn out.  Can’t have weak stretches of holes or I lose attention.  Can’t be too easy or I get bored with the lack of challenge.  And of course, the greens have to be great.  

Prairie Dunes passes the 108 in 48 test with flying colors for me for three reasons:  First, the sequence of holes is packed with variety from a length, straight vs dogleg, and directional perspective.  Second, the greens are, well, you know.  Third, the course is drop dead gorgeous – color contrast, texture, land movement, tree management – it is just the right kind of candy for my eyes.

Of the courses I re-played in 2017, Essex County Club and Maidstone also pass this test, but for different reasons than PD.  Both Essex and Maidstone play through multiple “zones”.  Essex has its brook/wetland zone and its stone hill zone.  Maidstone with its wetland zone and linksland zone.  This gives them both a meandering adventure feel that I find compelling.  Both are outstanding at the level of fine details.

All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.

There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.  My list of current 108 in 48 qualifiers is below.

I ask you, which are your 108 in 48ers, and why?


108 in 48ers

SAND HILLS – Mullen, NE

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If you have been to Sand Hills, you know.  Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, lovingly cared for by Superintendent Kyle Hegland’s team, is incredibly strong from start to finish.  It is no surprise that it started the revolution that has grown into a second Golden Age.

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ESSEX COUNTY CLUB – Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA

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This Donald Ross course resonated with me from the first play, and repeat visits deepen my love of it.  It doesn’t hurt that, just when I think that Superintendent Eric Richardson’s team can’t make it any better, they prove me wrong, again.

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PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS

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In addition to my thoughts above, I would add that the combination of Perry and Press Maxwell holes adds even more variety to the course, and if there a better set of greens in America, I would love to hear the argument.  Superintendent Jim Campbell’s team presents the course beautifully, and the staff and membership could not be more welcoming.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA – Southampton, NY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

If C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s attempt to create the ideal golf course falls short of the standard for perfection, it’s not by much.  The routing and strategic design, the variety of hazards, the greens, and the numerous iconic views conspire to create magic.  Caring for such an intricately conceived course is no small feat, and Superintendent William Salinetti’s team does a masterful job.

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

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Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created has its share of thrills, but is also packed with strategic questions that take repeat plays to answer.  The staff creates the perfect vibe for a golf geek, and our Superintendent Dan Lucas?  Nobody is better.

SHOREACRES – Lake Bluff, IL

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Seth Raynor took what might have been a challenging piece of property to some architects and devised one of the most brilliantly routed golf courses I have ever seen.  The central ravine feature is used brilliantly and provides a wonderful contrast to the bold template features greens.  Superintendent Brian Palmer’s team relentless refines the course and revels in creating firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

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I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it – Lawsonia is the most underrated golf course in America.  Attempt to describe the scale of the features created by William Langford & Theodore Moreau in this bucolic setting is pointless.  It must be experienced to be believed.  The quality of conditions that Superintendent Mike Lyons and his crew deliver with modest green fees makes Lawsonia an unbeatable value.

MAIDSTONE CLUB – East Hampton, NY

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In addition to my comments above, it is important to note the brilliance of Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work on this Willie Park, Jr. gem.  Having visited pre- and post-renovation, there were moments that I could not believe I was playing the same course.  Superintendent John Genovesi’s team continues to push forward with fine tuning that perfectly walks the line between providing excellent playing conditions and allowing the course to have the natural feel intended by the designers.

KITTANSETT CLUB –  Marion, MA

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An argument could be made that this Frederic Hood and William Flynn design is the best flat site course in America, especially after a Gil Hanse restoration.  Strategic challenges abound, and the set of one-shotters are second to none.  Superintendent John Kelly’s team continues to bring out every bit of Kittansett’s unique character.

BALLYNEAL – Holyoke, CO

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Ballyneal is far and away my favorite Tom Doak design.  It is a glorious collection of holes that meander through the Chop Hills.  Birdies do not come easy, but the course doesn’t beat you up either – it strikes the perfect balance.  Jared Kalina’s team knows quite well how to provide fast and firm conditions, and the staff and membership conspire to make it the golfiest club I’ve ever visited.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

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Another homer alert – I grew up going around Old Elm as a caddie and we were allowed to play every day, which I did.  I loved the course as a kid, but with the progressive restoration back to Harry Colt and Donald Ross’s vision that has been undertaken by GM Kevin Marion, Superintendent Curtis James, Drew Rogers and Dave Zinkand, OE has gone next level.  

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN

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The King-Collins creation is everything that golf should be.  Strategically challenging, visually interesting, and holes punctuated by stellar greens.  Combine the design with the ability to play cross-country golf and it is impossible to get bored going around and around Sweetens.  Need a playing partner?  No worries, Rob and Patrick are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT

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Subtle and strategic on the front nine, and breathtakingly bold and beautiful on the back, Sand Hollow has it all.  This is a bit of a cheat as the back nine would require a cart to get around multiple times in one day, but I am making an exception.  It’s that good, especially with the fast and firm conditions presented by Superintendent Wade Field’s team.

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI

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The Keiser family’s club is the perfect place to loop around endlessly.  A variety of holes, solid greens, and multiple teeing options make these 9 holes play like 36+.  Mr. Keiser has recently embraced tree removal across the property opening up views, and allowing Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha’s team to expand corridors of firm turf.  No need for a scorecard, just go play.

OLD MACDONALD – Bandon, OR

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Old Mac is not my favorite course at Bandon Dunes, but it is the only one that makes the 108 in 48 cut for me.  The width and scale create the possibility of holes playing dramatically differently from one round to the next.  The execution of the homage to CBM by Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, et al is spot on and glorious to explore for golf geeks.  Superintendent Fred Yates’s team provides ideal conditions for lovers of bounce and roll.


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Jon Cavalier’s Top 10 New Courses in 2015

The end of the year is a time for reflection on days past, anticipation of days to come, and most of all, a time for … LISTS!  Top 10 lists seem to be everywhere this week, and far be it for me to resist this trend. So, in that vein, here are the Top 10 Courses that I played for the first time in 2015 (along with some honorable mentions).

2015 was a great year for me in golf.  I was most fortunate in that I was able to play a lot of rounds in quite a few different areas of the U.S.  I was able to play and photograph several courses that I had been eager to visit for quite some time.  I started Twitter (@linksgems) and Instagram (@linksgems) accounts as a means of sharing some of these photos, and the response has been wonderful.  Best of all, I was able to play golf or talk golf with many different people over this past year, who I know I will call dear friends for years to come (including the creator of this very blog – thanks Jason).

But since this is a golf architecture blog, and you’re undoubtedly here for some golfporn, without further ado I present the Top 10 courses I played for the first time in 2015.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

These are courses that deserve special mention, as they are all fantastic places to enjoy a round of golf, and in any normal year, would certainly have made my Top 10.  In no particular order:

Hollywood Golf Club (Deal, NJ)

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This Walter Travis-designed, Tom Doak-restored gem has a brilliant routing, gorgeous bunkering, wildly rolling greens and a top-notch staff that keeps the course in perfect condition.  What more can you ask for?

Ekwanok Country Club (Manchester, VT)

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Another Walter Travis masterpiece, Ekwanok is nestled in the Green Mountains and is one of the most scenic courses in New England, particularly in fall.  The par-5 7th hole is one of the best in the US.  Francis Ouimet won the US Amateur here in 1914.

Old Elm Club (Highland Park, IL)

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The under-the-radar, men only club (one of four in the Chicago area) is golf at its purest – having recently undergone a comprehensive restoration led by Drew Rogers, David Zinkand and Superintendent Curtis James, Old Elm is one of Chicago’s best.

Chambers Bay (University Place, WA)

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Embattled host of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was lambasted for its seemingly bumpy greens and other issues.  But for normal, everyday play, Chambers Bay provides a fabulous experience, including firm, links-like conditions and incredible views that go forever.

Newport Country Club (Newport, RI)

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One of the very few remaining true links experiences available in the U.S., the journey at Newport begins and ends with its magnificent clubhouse. The 18 holes one traverses in between aren’t too shabby either.

Old Sandwich Golf Club (Plymouth, MA)

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One of several things I share in common with Jason – I have never played a course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that I didn’t love.  Old Sandwich is no exception, and is one of Boston’s best offerings.

Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

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At most resorts, Old Mac would be the flagship course.  At Bandon, it’s one of four outstanding courses.  Ask 10 people to list their order of preference for the Bandon courses, and you’ll get 10 different lists.  You’ll also get 10 people who love Bandon Dunes.

Kingsley Club (Kingsley, MI)

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Kingsley Club, designed by Mike DeVries, gives life to its motto, “In the spirit of the game…”, by providing golfers with firm and fast playing conditions on true fescue fairways, greens that will boggle the mind of the best lag putter, and a gorgeous, secluded setting.


TOP 10 for 2015

Number 10 – Boston Golf Club (Hingham, MA)

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No course I played in 2015 exceeded my expectations by as much as Boston Golf Club did.  Going in, I expected to see a very good Gil Hanse-designed golf course.  What I found was an absolute masterpiece of modern golf design.

Playing through wooded terrain and rolling, often dramatic elevation changes, the course presents 18 different strategically challenging golf holes that present the golfer with options to be weighed and obstacles to be overcome or avoided.  Seemingly every shot requires the player to choose between a risky, high-reward play and a safer route that might take par out of play.  The par-4 5th hole is a clinic in how to build a challenging and fun short two-shot hole, and the par-3s are universally excellent.  A wonderful course.

Number 9 – Yeamans Hall Club (Hanahan, SC)

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Everything I love about golf, Yeamans Hall has in abundance. This Seth Raynor design is another extremely successful restoration projects by the Renaissance Golf team, and the care and talent that were brought to bear on Yeamans’s greens and bunkering is evident throughout the course.

Set on nearly a thousand acres of gorgeous lowcountry, the course has ample room to meander through hills and forests, down to the water’s edge and back.  Each hole culminates at a massive green complex, most of which contain deep bunkering and substantial undulations within the putting surface.  But best of all, the course is a true throwback, and all the cliches about “stepping back in time” upon passing through the magnificent gates are entirely true.

Number 8 – Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL)

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Another brilliant Raynor design, another excellent restoration led by Superintendent Brian Palmer with Tom Doak consulting, Shoreacres is arguably the best course in the Chicago area, and certainly one of Raynor’s finest.

One of Raynor’s earliest solo designs, Shoreacres contains some of his best MacRaynor templates, including the Road Hole 10th, which is one of the most difficult pars in the Midwest.  But the Raynor originals, like the 11th, which requires a carry over a deep ravine from the tee and another into the green, and the par-5 15th, which plays over some of the most interesting and unique terrain on the property.  Lovely in all respects.

Number 7 – Friars Head (Riverhead, NY)

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One of the best modern golf courses that I’ve ever played, Friar’s Head is unique in that the course begins in massive sand dunes (Hole 1), proceeds immediately to open farmland (Holes 2-8), returns to the dunes at the turn (Holes 9-10), takes one last turn through open terrain (Holes 11-14) and finishes with a dramatic run back through the dunes (Holes 15-18).

The ability of Coore & Crenshaw to route a golf course hasn’t been in doubt since they built Sand Hills, but Friar’s Head is perhaps the prototypical example of how to route a course over two starkly different kinds of ground. The transition holes (2, 8, 11 and 14) are some of the best on the course, and the finishing stretch from 14-18 is as good as any in the U.S.

Number 6 – Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

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Tom Doak’s American masterpiece, Pacific Dunes is an incredible experience from start to finish. From the very first hole, with its large sand blowout to the left of the fairway and the hint of an ocean in the background, the golfer knows something special awaits. Fortunately, the wait is not long, as the course gallops straight for the ocean cliffs, which come into view on the otherworldly par-5 3rd hole and become part of the course on the signature-worthy par-4 4th hole.

The number of top notch holes at Pacific Dunes is too great to recount them all here, but the back-to-back par-3s at 10 and 11 and the par-4 13th are truly spectacular.

Number 5 – The Country Club at Brookline (Brookline, MA)

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That The Country Club is the third course from the Boston area to appear on this list speaks to the quality of golf in Beantown.  Admittedly, I am a sucker for the Francis Ouimet story, and the experience of playing the course on which he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the 1913 U.S. Open was enthralling. The par-4 3rd hole, a stiff two-shot hole playing down, around and between rocky outcroppings, and the par-5 11th hole (pictured), are among the best in the US.

Number 4 – Crystal Downs Country Club (Frankfort, MI)

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Somehow, I had never played a course designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie before playing Crystal Downs.  Quite the introduction!  The course begins from an elevated tee overlooking most of the open front nine, before proceeding to the more isolated out-and-back routing of the final nine.

Crystal Downs might have the most treacherous greens in the country, and “degreening” after one’s first putt is quite common.  In fact, the par-3 11th green is so steeply sloped from back to front that hitting an approach past the pin is essentially dead. On the 17th hole, it is possible to hit a reasonably good putt from the back of the green to a front pin and end up 50 yards or more back down the fairway.

While the greens are the focus at Crystal Downs, every hole on the golf course has considerable merit.  On the front nine, the three par-4s at the 5th (with landforms that must be seen to be believed), 6th (with “scabs” bunkering guarding the inside of the fairway) and 7th (with an amazing “boomerang” shaped green) are each world class.  Not to be outdone the par-5 8th hole, with a fairway like an angry sea, is easily one of the best in the US.

Number 3 – Chicago Golf Club (Wheaton, IL)

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Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1894 and redesigned by Seth Raynor in 1923, Chicago Golf Club is one of the oldest and most historic courses in the US.  Raynor was unrestrained in his implementation of the Macdonald templates, and as a result, Chicago has some of the biggest, baddest and boldest templates that either man ever built.

Combined with the extraordinarily firm and fast conditions, the difficult greens and the deep and ubiquitous bunkering (including at the rear of most greens), Chicago provides a serious test, but the lack of water hazards, deep rough and dense trees makes the course reasonably playable for all golfers.  Chicago is truly a course that harkens back to the golden era of golf course design, and golf is richer for its existence and preservation.

Number 2 – Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (Southampton, NY)

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There’s not much I can say about Shinnecock that hasn’t already been said by those who can say it far better than I can.  Suffice it to say that it’s a near perfect, breathtakingly beautiful “championship” golf course that is kept in such immaculate condition by Jon Jennings and his staff allowing that it could host the U.S. Open for 200 days a year.

It’s among the best handful of golf courses in the world, and one I would happily play every day for the rest of my life.  In every other year, it would be number one on this list.  But not this year.

Number 1 – National Golf Links of America (Southampton, NY)

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Those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter/Instagram know that I am an avid fan and ardent disciple of the work of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.  The pair have long been my favorite of the golden age designers, and I never pass up a chance to play a Macdonald or a Raynor course.  As a result, National Golf Links sat at the top of my wish list for some time.  When I finally got to play it this year, I went in with such anticipation that I was worried that the course would fail to live up to my impossibly high expectations.  It didn’t – it exceeded them, by a wide margin.

National Golf Links is everything I love about the game of golf and golf course architecture.  It’s an impeccably well-preserved example of one of the crowning achievements in golf course design and a virtually unaltered example of the principles and beliefs of one of the game’s most important historical figures.  It’s a course with ample fairways, almost no overly penal hazards and tame rough, allowing for a full panoply of shots that are rewarded when successful and which allow an opportunity for recovery when not.

The course has 18 holes that vary in quality between excellent and best-in-the-world, the latter category including what is perhaps the finest opening hole in golf, a short par-4 “Sahara,” a long par-4 “Alps” (my favorite par-4 in golf) and the finest Redan par-3 in the game.  And that’s just the first four holes.  Somehow, the remaining 14 holes manage to sustain this level of quality, which culminates with the uphill par-4 16th, its punchbowl green resting in the shadow of the Club’s iconic windmill, the downhill par-4 17th, dubbed Peconic for its picturesque views of Peconic Bay, and the par-5 18th, a roller coaster of a three-shot hole playing hard against bluffs bordering the bay and which some consider the best closing hole in the world.

From the moment one passes through the Macdonald gates, a day at National Golf Links is an experience any golfer would cherish for a lifetime.


And there you have it – the 10 best courses I played for the first time in 2015 (plus honorable mentions).  Note that if you disagree with anything above or think I’m nuts (National over Shinnecock?), let me know in the comments and we’ll have a discussion.  After all, what’s the point of these lists if not to stir debate.

Lastly, to those of you I had the great fortune of meeting or playing with over the past year, you have my deepest appreciation for sharing your time with me, and I am honored to count you among my friends (you know who you are).  Sincere thanks to Jason Way, not only for hosting this list on his blog, but for being so generous with his knowledge and for introducing me to some great golf courses in his neck of the woods.  Thanks to all of you for reading, and here’s to a 2016 filled with good golf on great courses with the best of friends, old and new.

Jon Cavalier
Philadelphia, PA


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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To Heath & Links with Drew Rogers

Drew Rogers is a generous man.  I have learned this first hand in my work on GeekedOnGolf and Canal Shores.  He shares his experience and expertise freely.  So it is no surprise that he was kind enough to bring us along on his recent trip to England by sharing his experiences in daily journal posts online.

Drew and I talked upon his return and he agreed to provide a recap of the tour with us here.  In case you missed his daily journal, links are provided at the bottom of this post.  You can also read more from Drew in his previous GeekedOnGolf interview.


I’m fresh off one of the greatest golf tours in my life – the To Heath & Links Tour of England.  For those who want to gain a general perspective of the experience, this recap will hopefully inspire.

THE TOUR

It’s not Scotland and it’s not Ireland, but there are some pieces of each with England’s own unique touches as well.  The golf experience was certainly diverse: two heathland courses (Sunningdale and Berkshire); followed by two links courses (Royal St. George’s and Royal Cinque Ports); then back to the heathlands (Walton Heath); on to links again (St. Enodoc, Royal North Devon, and Burnham & Berrow); and a strong heathlands finish (Swinley Forest, Woking, and St. George’s Hill).  That’s 185 golf holes in ten days.

HEATH OR LINKS?

Both are so uniquely good and yet so different.  England is blessed to feature the best of both.  My impression of the heathland courses begins with great beauty.  A contrast of maintained turf against the backdrop of pines, heather, and rhododendrons.  Colors and textures – a wonderful palate for an architect to work with to define strategies and demark margins of play.  The terrain is ideal.  Rolling contours (sometimes dramatic) and generally sandy, loamy soils that are ideal for golf.  Heather is rough stuff.  One can only hope to wedge out and move along.  Some courses have allowed the heather to encroach too far, in my opinion, negating the architect’s original design intentions, options, and strategies.  Golfers there seem way more tolerant of the impacts of heather than I would have imagined.  It wouldn’t go over well here, I can promise you!  Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler and Willie Park, Jr. dominated the heathland scene.

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

Links golf is a brand that I was certainly more familiar with, having traveled a number of times to Scotland and Ireland.  Links golf is the purest form of golf there is.  There is a storied history to its derivation. Without the linksland, we wouldn’t have golf at all, and I suppose that’s why it’s my favorite brand of golf to play.  I enjoy the firm, running surfaces, the odd contours and randomness.  Links golf invites quirkiness and deviation from norm, like the creativity that children employ in the games they make up.  There’s nothing quite like it – and if you don’t appreciate links golf, then you probably don’t quite understand what the game is all about.  To my surprise, I found that England (like Scotland and Irleand) is home to some of the finest links courses in the world.  Names like Colt and Fowler resurfaced on the links, along with Old Tom Morris and James Braid.

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

COLT & FOWLER

I won’t beat around the bush regarding Harry Colt – I think he may be the best there ever was, period.  He takes you on a journey, exposes you to so much variety, but all within the context of the varied terrain and setting.  His use of angles on a landscape is masterful, as is his understanding of depth, deception, scale and proportion with bunkering, hummocks, positioning of fairways and contouring complementary greens.  Maybe he picked up a few things from MacKenzie?  Certainly these qualities are more artistic classifications, but they are vitally important for an architect to possess, such as an ability to very simplistically employ them as the test of golf is created.  When it’s all done right, you know it – Harry Colt got it.

Harry Colt's Swinley Forest

Harry Colt’s Swinley Forest

And what of Herbert Fowler?  Maybe he wasn’t quite the artist that Colt was, but he was darned skilled at creating a proper test of golf.  His eccentric efforts at The Berkshire were exhilarating to see with such playful greens and an arrangement of holes unlike any other I’ve seen (six 3s, six 4s and six 5s).  Then at Royal North Devon he tweaked Old Tom Morris’ work employing a ‘less is more’ approach – solid, but also very simple.  Maybe his finest work, Walton Heath, is a testament to his artistic flare and ability to balance strategic features on an otherwise subtle landscape.

Herbert Fowler's Walton Heath

Herbert Fowler’s Walton Heath

GOLF IN ENGLAND

I hope I don’t go too far here, but I was really refreshed by what I saw on the courses during this trip (not that it was a great surprise, given all my other trips to the British Isles).  Golf is social.  Golf is NOT exclusive.  Golf is exercise.  And golf can be shared with one’s dog!  Dogs are everywhere and welcomed. The game is played differently in England than in the U.S.  They play quickly, and they play matches.  Four-balls are rarely allowed.  Two-balls and three-balls are normal and preferred.  Golfers don’t play for scores, and they don’t obsess about handicaps. They play for the brisk walk, the companionship, and for the gamesmanship of a friendly match.  If takes more than three hours, it’s probably not worth doing.  They also appreciate good architecture.  They realize that the game is a test of humility.  The English don’t have an air of golf entitlement – they just play.  Pinch me, England, I’m in love!

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

PAR IS PAR

If you think that an arrangement of 36-36-72 is the rule of thumb, then plan to be disappointed in England.  Par is whatever the architects happened to feel fit the ground the best.  In ten days, I played courses with pars of 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.  One of the 72s had six each of 3s, 4s, and 5s.  The par 68 was Swinley Forest at just over 6200 yards, which included 8 par fours over 400 yards!  And Swinley may be one of the best I’ve ever seen.  My conclusion (and advice) is, don’t get tied up in knots over what you think par should be or that a course isn’t worthy because of a break from the norm.  I enjoyed each of the courses just the same – par was irrelevant.  Most of the time, I didn’t even realize the overall par until the round was nearing completion.  I suppose I was just having too much fun!

SHORT HOLES

Par-3s, and maybe a few par-4s, are the absolute soul of the game that I enjoyed for ten days.  As was the case with the matter of par itself, let’s again push through some preconceived notions about par-3s.  On one course, I played six of them.  On another course, the round started with one.  On another, the round ended with one.  A par-3 can be the second hole and on several courses, a par-3 was the tenth hole.  Much to my surprise, we never played consecutive 3s, but we already know that can work as well (Cypress Point, Oitavos Dunes, Newport National, etc.).

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

The short holes provide more than just links between longer holes.  They’re strategically “fitted” into the sequence where they can be inspirational to the experience and provide great variety to one’s round.  I saw some damn good one’s too – the 10th at The Berkshire, the 8th at St. George’s Hill, the 4th at Swinley Forest, the 6th and 16th at Royal St. George’s, the 17th at St. Enodoc – they’re all real beauties.

The short Par-4 4th at St. George's Hll

The short Par-4 4th at St. George’s Hll

From an architect’s perspective, I feel strongly about having at least one, dynamic, strategic and potentially reachable 4-par in a round.  I think that helps make the golf course and experience complete…and fun!  Such a hole should entice bold play and reward the best shots handsomely, but always with the chance of peril.  Maybe the best I saw was the 4th at St. George’s Hill – as enticing as I’ve seen.  Others include the 6th at Royal Cinque Ports, the 3rd at Walton Heath, the 11th at Swinley Forest, the 12th at Berkshire Red, and the 4th at St. Enodoc.

MISC. DESIGN ATTRIBUTES

We saw amazing green contours, especially at Royal Cinque Ports and Royal St. George’s, varied with boldness to repel or collect, dramatic segmentation and pocketing followed by subtle rippling.  With some, the credit perhaps goes to Nature.  While others were obviously touched by the masterful hand of man.

The beautiful 4th green at Royal St. George's

The beautiful 4th green at Royal St. George’s

Hazards on these courses are less inviting than what we were accustomed to.  Deep sod-walled pits, heather laced embankments, and even a few fortified ramparts.  The one thing about hazards – mainly bunkers – is that when they’re properly placed, they can make a standard hole into one of the most memorable, and devious, that you’ll ever play.  Take the 6th “Himalayas” at St. Enodoc, the 4th at Royal St. George’s (some refer to it too as “Himalayas’), and the 4th “Cape Bunker” at Royal North Devon.  And what about the sloped bank on the 10th at the Berkshire and the steep, shaved slope fronting the green on the 6th at Royal Cinque Ports?  The strategic placement of bunkers and features was also prevalent, like the 4th hole at Woking.  Colt’s subtle placements of hazards at Swinley Forest and Sunningdale as well as Fowler’s randomness at Walton Heath were also brilliant.

The 6th

The 6th “Himalayas at St. Enodoc

One thing that really pleased me and captured me at the same time was the use of angled fairways.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  It really is, but it is rarely done well.  All of the courses I saw in England had more than a few holes where the tee placement worked with an angled fairway to tempt a player.  What looks to be an enormously wide target, in fact, requires commitment and execution of a very precise tee shot.  All the architect requires is width – the space to use the terrain as he wishes.  But the result is a shot with options, and options lead to a more enjoyable golf experience.  Three cheers for angled fairways!

Angled fairway at Woking

Angled fairway at Woking

FINAL THOUGHTS

Of all the architecture I witnessed in England, what struck me most about the holes was the simplicity in which they were devised – simple positioning, simple development of greens, simple alignment of fairways and simple use/placement of innate features.  The courses were not complicated in their design.  In fact, they were far from complex.  They were very simply fitted on a proper landscape for the intended use and very strategically developed to provide the best golf experience.  That’s great architecture, and that’s why I had longed to make this trip.

I’m really blessed to have now witnessed some of the best architecture England has to offer, from the hands of Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr., James Braid, Tom Dunn, and Laidlaw Purves, among others – really great stuff!  I’m not going to rank the courses I saw, and I don’t have a scale bearing my name to push on anyone to help them assess their experiences – see them for yourself and make your own assessments.  If nothing else, I hope my journal inspires others to get out and see these great courses to appreciate what they’re all about.  We all have a commonality in that we love golf and we owe it to ourselves to examine how the game originated and how it has evolved.

My time in England was epic.  The brand of golf was refreshing and pure, the courses were raw and playful, beautiful and engaging.  Today, I’m home, inspired as ever to create even more enjoyable golf encounters with my clients.  Amazing trips like this one pave the way for even more creativity and a fresh outlook on the game.


To Heath & Links Tour Daily Journal:


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 9 (Inspiration for the New Canal Shores)

In recent Journey Along the Shores posts, I have been focused on what we are doing to improve the course now.  With Autumn quickly approaching, stay tuned for news on the next batch of improvement projects.

Let’s take a break from the present, and revisit the subject of the future of Canal Shores.  There are exciting discussions taking place on how to increase the beauty of the property, the playability of the course, and the sustainability of the facility.  The Board and community have yet to make concrete decisions about a Master Plan.  However, since I posted about a 4 Course Concept, there has been quite a bit of enthusiastic feedback, including from people who know much more about golf than I do.  To the best of my ability, I have integrated the ideas that these experts have generously shared.

I have also repeatedly been asked a question – What will this look like and how will it work?

Before answering, first, a disclosure.  There are no original ideas in my Concept.  Rather, what I have tried to do is envision a new Canal Shores that leverages best practices from the past and present to provide a golf experience that is more flexible and fun for all of our players, especially kids.

THE ROLLING GREEN

There is one aspect of golf that every man, woman, and child can enjoy, regardless of skill level – putting.  Who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a ball tumbling into the hole?  That is why I have proposed the creation of a putting course for Canal Shores.  It is a place that can be enjoyed by all, and where kids can begin to learn the game properly – from the hole outward.

Inspiration for The Rolling Green comes from the world’s most famous putting course – The Himalayas at St. Andrews.  Pictured below, it is the home to the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club, and is also open to the public for a very modest fee.

Closer to home, course developers and operators have started adding putting and short courses to their offerings.  Mike Keiser has proven to be a visionary with the opening of the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes Resort putting course, designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina on 100,000 square feet of wildly contoured duneland.  The course is no charge for resort guests and area residents.  Having played it myself, I can attest to how incredibly fun (and addicting) it is.

Even the USGA has gotten into the act.  On a visit to Canal Shores, USGA senior executive Rand Jerris shared that Gil Hanse designed a putting course at the USGA headquarters.  “Everyone used to eat lunch at their desks, but not anymore,” Rand explained.  “It has fostered a sense of community among our staff.”

THE KIDS LINKS

In Scotland, where the game was born, access to the links was not a right.  It was a privilege that young players had to earn through developing skills and etiquette.  Where were kids to learn the game?  Often, they had their own “courses” set aside – open spaces with greens, minimal hazards, and undulating ground.

Inspiration for our Kids Links was provided to me by Northwestern Coach Pat Goss on a recent trip to Scotland with Luke Donald.  Pat played North Berwick, and saw the Children’s Course, one of the oldest in existence.  This is a space for kids only.  No adults allowed unless accompanied by a child.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing a short course designed to engage kids and beginners, at CommonGround outside of Denver.  Designed by Tom Doak, the course is packed with interesting ground features and cool greens.  The evening I was there, it was also packed with parents and children.

And a final piece of inspiration was provided to us by Lisa Quinn, Executive Director of the The First Tee of Chicago, when she stopped by Canal Shores.  She tipped us off to the Youth Links at Cantigny in Wheaton.  I plan to load my boys up to go play this gem – they play, I caddie.

THE BACK LOT

Watching players progress in the game to the highest level of competitive performance is very rewarding.  Who doesn’t like seeing an advanced player produce mind-blowing shots?

Giving the area’s competitive players – Northwestern’s men’s and women’s golf teams, ETHS’s teams, AJGA amateurs – a world class practice course on which to develop their games exposes the community to part of what makes golf great.  It can never be mastered, and so the reward is in the progress.  Watching better players has always inspired me to keep developing my game, and I subsequently get to experience the joy of hitting shots that seemingly transcend my ability.

And to up the ante, what if the Back Lot was open to parents and kids as a “family course” so that we could walk and play in the footsteps of more advanced players?  I know my boys would love that experience.

Inspiration for the Back Lot comes from existing practice facilities, and short courses.  I am particularly intrigued by the outstanding work done by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw at Bandon Preserve.  Although a par 3 course, it has the fundamentals of a great practice course – variety of approach shot distances and angles, challenging hazards, and big, interesting greens.

Ask any visitor to Bandon, and they will tell you that the Preserve provided challenge, and maximum fun.  Architect Dave Zinkand includes his work on that project at the top of his list of favorites.  (Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Dave here)

Other college golf programs have provided their players with first-rate, imaginative facilities on which to practice their craft.  University of Illinois’s Lautritzen/Wohlers Outdoor Golf Practice Facility, The Playground at University of Washington, and Stanford’s Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex are all examples of how a practice area can be both beautiful and beneficial to players.

As a resident, it would be very exciting to me to have top players out showcasing their skills for me and my kids to see.  And you never know – with a space like this, we might even be able to convince former Northwestern players such as Luke Donald and Matt Fitzpatrick to stop by and visit when they are in town…

THE JANS COURSE

What about players who have the skills, and want to play golf on a “standard” course?  Canal Shores does not have the space that allows for a typical 18 hole golf course.  However, that does not mean that players have to settle for “less than”.  Rather, what can be offered in a renovated short course – The Jans Course – is the kind of fast, fun and flexible golf that fits with today’s busy lifestyles.

Facilities around the country, including nearby Arlington Lakes GC (stay tuned for the GeekedOnGolf interview with architect Mike Benkusky on this project) are reimagining what a “round” of golf could mean.  The creativity of these initiatives is inspiring to me.    

The Jans Course could be routed in numerous combinations of par 3s and 4s into 9 to 14 holes.  If/when the time comes, we’ll leave that to the GCA professionals.  Regardless of the routing, we can draw on the rich history of early-20th century architecture for style inspiration.  Donald Ross, William Langford, Seth Raynor and others have left us with numerous examples of how to create interest with bold features that also fit the natural surroundings.  We need only look around in our Chicagoland “backyard” to courses like Old Elm, Shoreacres, and Skokie CC to see how beautiful and fun these golf holes can be.

Tee-to Green Hazards would likely include minimal bunkers to keep maintenance costs down, but those we have could have the classic look of Golden Era courses.

Without bunkering, The Jans Course could rely on Ground Features – humps, bumps, hollows, and hummocks – to challenge players in a creative and beautiful manner.  In a visit to Canal Shores, architect Drew Rogers stressed the value of these features in giving players variety without sacrificing playability (read the GeekedOnGolf with Drew here)

Our Greens will likely need to be on the smaller end of the scale, but that does not mean that they won’t be interesting.  We are not looking for severity, but rather the subtle contouring that confounds players and makes them want to come back for more.  On his tour of Canal Shores, Rand Jerris encouraged us to preserve and/or recreate some of the neater greens on the course, thereby maintaining a link to the origins of the course.

Is all this possible at little ol’ Canal Shores?  Not without commitment, resources and significant effort.  But otherwise, why not?  We do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Rather, we need only look around for sources of inspiration that abound when the spirit of the game is upheld.  With that spirit, we can transform a unique space into one of the truly great golf facilities on the planet.

Are you inspired?  Stay tuned for news to come…


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Sculpting the Earth – An Interview with Architect Dave Zinkand

“Remote” is a good word to describe the location of Apache Stronghold.  Why did I make the trek through the mountains of the Tonto National Forest, past small mining towns, to an Indian Casino golf course in the middle of nowhere?  As always, I was in search of golf adventure and great architecture.  In this case, I was also lucky enough to have a chance to tee it up with architect Dave Zinkand.

The course was truly special, and Dave was great company – a talented architect, good player, and an even better man.  For me, the evening was what this great game is all about.

As we walked and talked, I was consistently reminded of what differentiates architects from players, even GCA geek players like me.  Architects see the course differently, and it was a blast to hear Dave’s insights about the course and his work.  A few highlights:

  • Apache Stronghold has wonderful contours, washes and gullies that wander through the fairways.  Dave pointed out that by routing the holes such that those features are often at an angle to the tee, Tom Doak has created interest.  The player can decide how much of the carry they want to take on, and they get the thrill of pulling off the carry on their selected line.  An architect does not always need to use bunkers or hazards to create that challenge and fun.  A ripple or ridge in the ground creates the same effect.
  • Dave pointed out the interesting slopes and mounds of the green surrounds.  He was particularly interested in the close proximity to the greens of some of the high-side slopes.  A bold design choice that makes for interesting approach and short-game shots.
  • We also discussed internal green contours at length, and Apache Stronghold has great ones shaped by Kye Goalby and the Renaissance Golf Design team.  Dave noted that a bold contour that might seem over-the-top on first playing, can often provide more options to pull off a brilliant shot once the player learns to use that feature to his advantage.
  • And finally, Dave put into words what I felt makes Apache Stronghold unique.  It is routed in such a way that the holes feel very intimate and engaging.  And yet, every so often, when ascending to a tee or green complex, the course reveals a vista that reminds one of the awe-inspiring expanse of the land on which the course is built.  It is a choreographed walk that creates pure magic.

My luck with Dave didn’t end with our time at Apache Stronghold.  He was gracious enough to share even more in the following interview.  I hope you enjoy his perspective as much as I do.


THE INTERVIEW

How were you first introduced to golf?

My introduction to golf was rather stereotypical.  As a boy, my father would take my sister and I out to Fremont Country Club, our hometown club in Ohio.  When Molly and I were old enough, we began to play from the 150 yard markers.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

It seems the addiction of trying to improve upon the last shot or round is almost instantaneous.  As for the bigger picture, I now recognize golf for what it is, an adventure.  It blends an outdoor sport on varied playing fields with a great deal of social interaction.  Perhaps I was unaware of how fulfilling it is until high school when I could really begin to appreciate those benefits.  By college, trips with the golf team were a welcome diversion from our studies.  To this day, I still enjoy getting out with Dad.

How did you get into the business?

Every summer in college I gained experience at a new job.  First, I worked maintenance at Heatherdowns CC in Toledo.  The second summer, I was a laborer on a Hurdzan Fry course being constructed in Cleveland.  The third, as an intern with Arthur Hills’ design firm.  After graduating from Cornell with a degree in landscape architecture in 1997, I went over to Britain on the Dreer Award.  When I came back I went to work for Gil Hanse and then spent 14 years as a Design Associate with Coore & Crenshaw.

How did the year you spent in the UK change your perspective?

Fellow Dreer recipient, Chris Monti, referred to his year abroad as “the move”, meaning the career move.  I couldn’t agree more.  It may not have been a highly marketable commodity to most potential employers, but has provided limitless inspiration that still fuels my passion for the hands-on designing and shaping of golf courses.

Who are your favorite Golden Era architects and why?

There are such obvious choices as Alister MacKenzie, who blended great strategies with unparalleled aesthetics.  But considering historic golf architects as a whole, there are folks like Harry Colt whose somewhat reserved style always yielded admirable results.  The eccentric Tom Simpson created provocative strategies with quirky contours and odd features such as flat-top mounds.  There is Tillie and Perry Maxwell… So many designers have contributed to the catalog of great work and ideas.  That is a fantastic attribute of our game, the immense variety!

You have worked extensively with Bill Coore and Gil Hanse.  How have they influenced you?

My work with Gil was relatively brief, four projects in all.  But I have always been impressed with his routings and aesthetics.  In the fourteen years I spent with Bill & Ben, as well as with their long-time Associate, Dave Axland, I really had an opportunity to delve into every aspect of golf design and construction.  I could throw creative ideas out and see what stuck.  I had so many conversations and received so much feedback from Bill, when I run into a question of how to handle a certain issue, by now I have a pretty good idea of how he might attack the problem.  All of that interaction certainly contributes to my perspective on golf design.  Working with Bill and Ben really gave me a solid understanding of how to meld beauty and function into a playable setting.

What is your favorite element of a golf hole to work on?

Greens.  There is a heightened importance in the contours of a green, both in terms of strategy and aesthetics.  That is where I spent much of my time shaping for Coore & Crenshaw.  All of that said, bunkers provide powerful aesthetics.  It is great fun to toy with their endless variety to present such a splash of interest on the landscape.  Bill Coore and I have had a lot of fun heckling Jeff Bradley, the ‘Bunker Guru’, over the stardom he receives for his sandy exploits!

What are some of the challenges associated with renovating a historic course like Old Elm or Desert Forest?

There are so many aspects to this topic.  Change is difficult and any given club has hundreds of members.  This essentially means the designer has hundreds of customers.  As the saying goes, you can’t please everybody all of the time.  That is why it is so important to be reverent to the history and attributes of a course, while pressing forward with the task of fulfilling the client’s current and future needs.  Doing so in step with the leadership and staff is essential.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking a renovation project?

Prior to selecting a designer, they should research each candidate’s participation in the construction process (that was not self-promotion).  Preliminary design is essential for game-planning, but extra time spent on a drafting board or AutoCAD document does not replace on-site participation.  You don’t have to shape your own features as I can (that was self-promotion).  I find an unparalleled depth of interest in the work produced by designers who consciously allow their work to evolve in the field.  Bill Coore is a master at this.  Some of the concepts and details are not immediately evident or may even seem arbitrary, but reveal themselves over time.  This lends greatly to keeping a course fun to play over and again.

Which courses are on the top of your hit list to play next?

Jason, you finally got me out to Apache Stronghold.  I thank you, because that was a real treat.  Cypress Point is at the top of the list of courses I’ve never been to and really need to see.  I’ll bet my wife could have her arm twisted for a trip to Royal Melbourne and the Sandbelt in Australia.  There are also a number of classic courses on the east coast I would still love to see, such as Fishers Island.

Of the holes you have helped to build, which are your favorites?

It was fun to build a classic Cape Hole on the Sixth at Shanqin Bay in Hainan, China.

Shanqin Bay #6 - Photo courtesy of Brian Morgan

Shanqin Bay #6 – Photo courtesy of Brian Morgan

The par five Third Hole at Bandon Trails has a great deal of interest in its green that carries all of the way back up the hole in terms of how to attack.

Bandon Trails #5 - Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

Bandon Trails #3 – Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

The short par four Third at Colorado Golf Club doesn’t overwhelm, despite playing over a natural barranca.

Colorado Golf Club #3 - Photo courtesy of John Klinkerman

Colorado Golf Club #3 – Photo courtesy of John Klinkerman

I really enjoyed the bunkering improvements Jeff Bradley and I made to the Fourth Hole at Weekapaug Golf Club.  An additional bunker down the left keeps big hitters honest and the bunkering front-right of the green provides a much more engaging target.

Weekapaug Golf Club #4 - Photo courtesy of Gary Kellner at Dimpled Rock

Weekapaug Golf Club #4 – Photo courtesy of Gary Kellner at Dimpled Rock

Reinvigorating the island green on the Fourteenth at Old Elm Club with Drew Rogers was an old-fashioned opportunity to introduce Harry Colt’s original intention of torn edges.

Old Elm Club #15 - Photo courtesy of Scott Vincent

Old Elm Club #15 – Photo courtesy of Scott Vincent

My alteration of the Fourteenth at Desert Forest into a short par four was a fun contribution to an already impressive routing.  It also had the benefit of shortening the following green to tee walk.

Desert Forest #14

Desert Forest #14

Freely admitting my bias, I have thirteen favorite holes on Bandon Preserve. I thoroughly enjoyed that project and wonder if I’ll work on such a powerful parcel of ground ever again.

Bandon Preserve - Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

Bandon Preserve – Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

You recently joined the Mickelson design team.  What attracted you to that opportunity?

I really enjoy collaborating and they already had a strong team that shares great insights, with Phil, Mike Angus and Rick Smith.  It should be a lot of fun to introduce not only my own design views, but also contribute my experience and on-site guidance to help advance our design intentions in the field.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

It may sound corny, but I just love sculpting the earth.  I started out in Cornell’s School of Architecture, but quickly realized how important an organic edge was to finding my fulfillment in design.  Having my office outdoors and providing others, who often spend much of their time indoors, with sporty and provocative holes to play is rewarding.  I can’t even count how many times I have been told by people they never had more fun playing golf than on Bandon Preserve.  That is spectacularly gratifying.

Any interesting or challenging projects on the horizon for you?

I will spend the next two summers guiding and shaping Phil’s project in Calgary.  As for potential projects outside of that, I will be happy to give you an update.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

My wife and I just had our first child, a girl.  She is the very definition of adorable.  I am happy to put my other interests, such as redesigning our new yard and brewing some wickedly dry cider, on the back burner so I can concentrate on helping her and Momma!  Perhaps someday, I’ll be busy taking her to play with Grandpa John on the golf course.


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Soul Man – An Interview with Architect Drew Rogers

The call was supposed to just be a quick “hello” and “thank you” for some photos.  An hour later, I realized that I had found a kindred spirit in realm of golf geekdom.

Beyond sharing similar perspectives on the game, Drew and I are also fortunate to have spent significant time at the Old Elm Club – me as a caddie, and Drew as the architect who has recently worked to restore the course to the original design intent of Harry Colt.  In doing that restoration, along with David Zinkand and their crew, Drew has followed in the footsteps of Donald Ross, who built Old Elm.  The course was ideal to me as a kid, but somehow Drew has made it even better.

Whether it is his work on new courses like Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, or his loving restorations of the work of Colt, Ross, or Willie Park, Jr., Drew Rogers is a talented architect and a steward of the history and soul of the game.  Many thanks to him for taking the time to share his perspectives in this interview.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

Perseverance…. and a little luck!  As careers go, there was never any doubt in my mind, EVER, what I wanted to do.  So my path was pretty deliberate beginning as a teenager.  I’m from a small town in Southern Illinois, where we are fortunate to have a true country club and a damn good little golf course.  I worked there in many roles while growing up and played tons of competitive golf as well.  I studied Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky to build upon my appreciation of the natural beauty of a landscape and then combined that with my passion for the game.  Then I got a huge break through a friend and fellow UK grad to work with Arthur Hills.  The rest is history.

Who is your favorite Golden Age Era architect, and why?DrewRogers

Tough call there.  I have really enjoyed and been inspired by so much work from that era… to single out one seems impossible.  I’m a big fan of Harry Colt and am studying more of his work this year in England.  I have long appreciated work by Donald Ross and consulted on a fair number of his designs, but I also love the works of MacDonald and Raynor, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr.…. even Old Tom Morris and others.

Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?

I’ve always been one to seek out information, visit courses and meet people.  As a result I think I’m influenced by all of what I see and experience and also by the many fine folks I’ve encountered.  Not one, but many… colleagues, superintendents, clients and golfers and friends.  I guess I tend to have an “eyes wide open” approach to my work, with every project being definitively unique and with its own set of opportunities and goals.  My philosophies are founded on what I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had and continue to have.

Describe your process for a design project.

Since most of the work these days is with existing facilities, my first move is to learn as much about that property as I can… its history and evolution, how it works, its deficiencies, along with where things are at present and where they plan to go in the future.  Many of my clients already have some level of vintage architecture that seems worthy to retain or build from… but I also focus on how the course has evolved over time and what accommodations must be made moving forward for it to survive another 50 years. Today, we have golfers of all skills playing… on courses that were originally designed for a relative few – only the most avid players of the age.  Therefore, I work very closely with my clients; we make decisions together, assemble a team and then I’m very hands-on once the work is underway.

What is it like to renovate courses by Golden Age architects?

First of all, to work on these courses is a privilege, and it comes with great responsibility.  The responsibility is not just to honor the original architectural intent, but also to acknowledge 100 years or so of influence and evolution.  Golf courses must evolve and those Golden Age architects were all well aware that their courses would require some adaptation over time… what with the impacts of technology, irrigation, golf carts, turfgrasses, Mother Nature, golfers and certainly ever-changing player expectations.  Architecture from that era involves a lot more use of subtlety and was at the same time quite strategic – so being keenly aware of how and why they built what they did is very important.  My aim is to reinstate a course that will honor its past while also moving it into the future in a very practical sense.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking course improvement initiatives?

Learn to trust the assembled expertise… whether it be the superintendent, the architect, irrigation consultant, agronomist, etc. – these people are the most knowledgeable about golf courses; it is their craft.  So trust them, learn from them and allow them to lead you.  Also learn and accept that you cannot satisfy or placate all of your fellow members.  You need tough skin to deal with member politics.  Just try to focus on the greater good and the continued health of the facility.

As for gaining some basic knowledge, one can attain the necessary elementary understanding of golf course essentials from classic books such as The Links by Robert Hunter, Golf Greens and Greenkeeping by Horace Hutchinson or Golf Architecture by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie, among a few others.  The roots of good design and greenkeeping, in a most basic format, can be found in these and other historical volumes.

What are the primary challenges you consistently face in trying to deliver results that are up to your standards?

The first thing you learn in working with existing private clubs is that you’re working for 300 self-proclaimed experts on everything!  The names change from project to project, but the personalities are always there and those egos and personal agendas can be challenging.  I don’t expect to win every battle – there must be some compromise, but I’m always trying to keep them on point with respect to their original goals and keep them from cutting corners.  As long as we agree on “what it should be” we’ll tend to find solutions that accomplish our objectives.

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot in your work?

A lot of that has to do with client satisfaction.  I could be selfish and say I wanted this or that… but at the end of the day, the course is not mine, it’s theirs.  I want members to be proud of their course and understand the value of what we did.  You can’t make everyone completely happy – that is nearly impossible. But when the project is complete and you hear players debating over which hole is their favorite, the most improved, or that they were pleasantly surprised at what they see now versus what was there before… that is a pretty good indicator that we were successful.  Some measure success through ratings and rankings – or even tournaments… Over time, this all seems increasingly less relevant to me and with those whom I work. 

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

Surprisingly, I would most like to go back to some of my earlier efforts and make some adjustments.  When you build a new course, you don’t get EVERYTHING right the first time and there are a number of courses where I would really like to make some refinements, adjust some green surfaces, some bunkering, etc.…. Newport National in Rhode Island is one… another is Olde Stone in Kentucky.  The one I most wish I could retouch is Oitavos Dunes in Portugal.  It’s somehow ranked #68 in the world by Golf Magazine, but I think its potential is much greater (given it’s seaside, links-like characteristics) – or at least requires more work to be so deserving.  Donald Ross had the opportunity to tinker with Pinehurst #2 in this manner… and I just think it would be great to go back and build on something that is already really good and make it even better.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Certainly, I have been fortunate to travel the world, visit amazing places and meet so many dynamic people.  But more than anything, I gain the greatest satisfaction from the enjoyment of those who see and play my work.  I like to see them have fun and be challenged and I want them to appreciate beauty and subtlety.  And… it is always satisfying to truly improve something that was struggling or was in need of attention – then make it into something very special.  I guess, ultimately, it’s about people and their enjoyment of this fine game.  If I can have a hand in that, what could be better?OldElm9

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

Just one?!!  You know, this might be surprising to some… but I could play Bandon Preserve every day for the rest or my life and be totally contented.  It’s a 13-hole par-three course at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon… and probably the most beautiful and dynamic group of short holes I’ve ever seen (built by one of my good friends, Dave Zinkand).  Pure fun… maybe the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.

If it has to be an 18-hole course… I guess I could narrow it to two: National Golf Links of America on Long Island and North Berwick in Scotland.  I love fast and firm links conditions, great natural beauty, tradition and… and the quirky design elements.  Those are two of the best I’ve seen and richly enjoyed playing.  The Old Course at St. Andrews lurks closely to those, as does Old Elm and Shoreacres in Chicago.  Then again, I wouldn’t be too disappointed to play every day again at my home course in Robinson, Illinois… Quail Creek. 

What are the top 3 new courses on your list to play next?

As far as NEW courses, I really want to get down to see the two courses at Streamsong in Florida.  While not really a new course anymore, I still need to go and see Sandhills in Nebraska.  I’m heading to England later this year and am looking forward to Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and a few others around Surrey and the southern coast.  Mountain Lake, Raynor’s course in Florida, and Sleepy Hollow are also among those I yearn to see.  My bucket list is pretty deep, frankly!

What is your take on the pro game, and what impact is it having on golf architecture?

I’m completely bored with professional golf.  I honestly don’t enjoy watching it.  I’m rarely impressed by the personalities and all the hoopla that surrounds them.  And really, it’s frustrating to see them play most of the golf courses they’re set up to play – they seem quite sterile.  The courses don’t tend to require much shot making – and they don’t challenge a player’s intellect as well as they should.  The PGA and USGA control much of that.  There are occasional exceptions, but tournaments these days are more like four-day putting contests.  I’ve often wondered what would be the result if they didn’t play so many long, narrow layouts and instead played much shorter, risk-reward courses where, through design, power is actually less of an advantage… instead, lots of options to consider.  Just look at the effect the 10th hole at Riviera has on those guys!

I’m also frustrated with the influence that the pro game (and television/commentary) has on the weekend or member player. I’m talking about course conditions, speed of play issues, green speeds and perfect lies in bunkers.  There is a perception perhaps exhibited by the pro golfer first (whether true or not), that everything in golf must be fair and perfect.  That makes for rather dull golf, in my opinion.  We experience the effects when those “viewers” come to the golf course.  It’s pretty eye opening to witness.

When you are not playing golf or building golf courses, what are you doing?

Actually doing or would like to be doing?!!  It seems I play less and less golf these days… and there’s less time for hobbies as well – I love to fish, but rare is that occasion too.  I guess that’s just where I am in life… my age, responsibilities, etc.  However, I am blessed with an incredibly supportive wife and three wonderful children.  So when I’m not on the road or working, I’m with them.  My son is into playing hockey and golf and is an active Boy Scout.  My girls love ice-skating and baton twirling.  The youngest might be getting an itch to play golf…we’ll see.  I’m trying not to push too hard!

Any interesting or challenging projects in process or on the horizon for you?

I’m really very fortunate to be busy these days and am involved with a number of really great projects.  Just a few of them: now finishing a major restoration of Old Elm Club in Chicago… just an amazing place – designed by Harry Colt and built by Donald Ross – one of a kind.  Also working on some Golden Age Era renovations, including A Donald Ross design in Kenosha, WI, two Willie Park, Jr. courses, in Sylvania, OH and West Bloomfield, MI.  Also busy in Florida, working at Royal Poinciana Golf Club and Quail West in Naples, among others.

I’m also ever hopeful to do more 18-hole new courses.  The climate of golf development has changed so much over the last ten years and opportunities are really scarce – not what they used to be.  I just hope to keep doing good work and will earn the chance to partner with someone who appreciates my talents enough to bring me into a new-build situation.  I would really enjoy employing that level of creativity on a project again.  The way I figure, they can’t keep giving those jobs to the same group of architects forever!

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Take the Risk, Get the Reward

Whenever I can, I sneak away on my frequent business trips to Arizona to play one of my favorites – the Coore & Crenshaw gem, Talking Stick.  On my most recent outing to Talking Stick, one of my all-time favorite holes, the short par-4 12th (more on that hole later), got me to thinking about risk-reward holes par 4s, and why they are so great.

Golf is a game that makes many demands of the player.  Mental demands to process information and use it in decision making. Physical demands to execute against the decision made.  And the best holes, especially risk-reward par 4s, make strategic demands.  On these holes, the player must weigh 2 options:

  • The first option typically involves a safe tee shot that leads to a tougher approach, and the therefore a lower probability of being rewarded with a birdie, but also a lower probability of a bogey.
  • The second option involves a riskier drive, where failure to execute could result in bogey or worse, but where success means a much easier approach to claim the birdie reward.

A risk-reward par 4 does not need to be drivable to maximize challenge and enjoyment, although many are.  The beauty of these holes, and what makes them so demanding, is that there is no “right” choice.  The safe and risky strategies both work, and both have their challenges.  There is no easy way out, and so the player must make a decision, commit fully, and execute to make a birdie.

I fell in love with risk-reward holes as a caddie at Old Elm Club, which has recently undergone a restoration by J Drew Rogers.  The 9th hole is a short dog-leg left par 4.  The green complex is drivable, especially with a well-shaped draw, but errant tee shots are gobbled up by stands of large old trees.  Drives that find the trees rarely result in a green in regulation.  The player can choose to lay up short of the green in an area between 2 sets of bunkers, yielding an 80-100 yard pitch to a tiered green guarded by bunkers.  Birdie is still quite possible with the safe play off the tee, but not nearly as probable as if the player can drive up near the green for an easy up-and-down.

Taking into account wind and weather conditions, I played the hole both conservatively and aggressively over the years.  I made numerous birdies on the 9th, and had a few looks at eagle, but I also made my fair share of bogeys and others.  The 9th at Old Elm never got boring, which is the mark of a great hole. (Thanks to Dimpled Rock Photography for the beautiful Old Elm photos)

My home course, the Kingsley Club, which was designed by Mike DeVries, also has a risk-reward par 4 that is great fun.  The 13th at Kingsley is short enough to be drivable under almost all conditions.  It also has an ample landing area for lay-ups.  An undulating green, surrounded in front and right by bunkers, makes all approaches challenging and exciting.

Having played this hole both ways, I have concluded that the risky play at the green with a bail-out long left is the optimal choice.  Ideally the player can hit a fade that runs up on to the green left of the front bunker.  Neither the safe nor the risky play from the tee leaves an easy second shot though.  There is still work to be done, even from greenside, to collect that birdie reward.

Returning to Talking Stick’s 12th – this hole has an abundance of visual and strategic interest, in addition to making wonderful use of the natural features of the land.  Specifically, the natural wash/dry creek bed has been creatively incorporated to demarcate the safe and risky options.

Having played this hole more almost ten times, I have still not committed completely to one of the two options.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I have made more bogeys than birdies .  That is the mark of a great risk-reward hole.  It introduces options, which can confound the player and produce doubt.  Very few good shots are born of a doubtful mind.

The 9th at Old Elm, The 13th at Kingsley, the 12th at Talking Stick North, and every other great risk-reward par 4 – they tease and torment, and every so often, they pay off with a birdie.  From my perspective, they embody all that is best about golf – challenge, interest and enjoyment – and that is why they keep us coming back for more.


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Coming Full Circle

Standing on the 16th green at Old Elm Club, looking back down the long, rolling fairway with the sunlight filtering through the trees, I remembered why I loved this game so much.

OldElm2008I had been invited by my good friend Brian to join him at Old Elm even though I wasn’t really playing golf at the time.  He needed a fourth, and he knew that I grew up caddying and playing this marvelous little Donald Ross course in the north shore suburbs of Chicago.  An interesting and kind invite, especially given that I had essentially quit playing golf with any regularity for the previous twenty years.  Perhaps he knew something that I did not.  Perhaps he had an inkling that seeing those familiar fairways and greens would rekindle my passion for the game.  A passion that I had talked myself into believing was long ago dead.

The story that I would tell people if they asked me why I didn’t play anymore was that I had competed as a kid and had become burned out.  I failed in my attempt to make the team at University of Illinois, and ditched the clubs for a full college life.  After graduation, I didn’t have many potential playing partners in my inner circle, and so the opportunities did not arise.  That was the story I told, and there was some truth to it.  The deeper truth though is that I just put the clubs down one day and inertia took over.

Thankfully, on that day several years ago, Brian’s invitation changed my direction.

Looking back now, I realize how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to caddie at Old Elm.  Each day, I got to act as a guide, cheerleader, coach, and comrade to some of the country’s highest powered executives.  Perhaps I will share some of the words of wisdom, and the funny stories, of looping around the course in their company in later posts.  For now, I’ll just share that I witnessed every brand and quality of golf imaginable, absorbing as much as I could along the way.

We were allowed to play each evening and all day Mondays on this immaculate course created by a master designer.  These were times with friends that contained equal parts joy, challenge, competition and serenity.  I have putted out on the final hole in the dark at Old Elm more times than I can remember.

OldElm12

That place is dear to my heart.  It has its own special magic for me.

Brian and our other two playing partners (Peter and Dan) helped me reconnect with that magic again that day, and it has had me ever since.  In the the past 2 years, I have travelled coast to coast playing world-class courses, started working with a coach, and joined the Kingsley Club in Michigan.  I have found the joy, challenge, competition and serenity once more, and I can’t get enough.  I am truly geeked on golf.

I invite you in to phase two in my journey with this game, and I hope you share with me as well.  After all, golf-geeking is always more fun in a group.


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